What does Mollie Katzen have to do with grits, anyway?

Screen capture of 'About' page at molliekatzen.comMollie Katzen wrote the first cookbook I ever fell in love with. (Not counting that Christmas-themed one of my mom's, whose pages of recipes and photos of exotic do it yourself centerpieces I pored over during my childhood, of course.) When I had my first apartment and could do anything I wanted in my own kitchen, I bought Moosewood Cookbook and read it like a novel. The drawings and hand-written recipes thrilled and delighted me, as I considered cooking as a creative activity for the first time in my life. Reading about how she first began cooking, her role in founding the Moosewood Restaurant, which grew into The Moosewood Collective, also enthralled me, in that way "alternative" processes often do. It was also my first introduction to vegetarianism, when the idea of having a large meal without meat was foreign and scary.

Today I discovered a video of Mollie Katzen sharing some of the ways you can prepare polenta. There's nothing particularly unusual about this, of course: in the 21st century it's commonplace to watch a video of someone we never met, any day of the week, on a whim. But in spite of the fact that I went through a cooking obsession a couple of years back, watching hours of cooking shows every week, dreaming of owning a kitchen like the ones I saw on my TV screen, somehow Mollie (we were on a first-name basis for a long time, although she never knew it, when some friends and I started sharing recipes from her books,) slipped off my radar along the way.

I'm pretty sure I never would have recognized her now, had I come across a photo without being told that this radiant woman with gloriously cropped, white hair was the same woman who stirred my own then-fantasies of owning my own restaurant.

Now she's talking about polenta. Which, when paired with the images before me, led me to start thinking about grits. Wonderful, yummy grits. Which, I have just decided, this very minute, I am going to have today. With cheese!

Mollie was sharing some of the variations available to people preparing polenta (honey or gorgonzola and walnuts, or pesto and toasted pine nuts - Y U M!) which led me to recall the different ways Southerners (mostly) prepare grits. With just butter, or eggs, or with jelly, or cheese, or shrimp and herbs... there are so many variations, really. I had to ask myself: What is the difference between grits and polenta? I mean, they're really much more similar than I'd ever paused to consider. Well, you can do your own search and find what I found here, if you like, as there seems to to have been quite a lot written on the subject.

But what I've come to understand through my cursory peeking around, is that these products are prepared from different kinds of corn, and also the process by which they come to be is different. I think, too, that polenta is more coarse. But in the end, perhaps the greatest difference is that I believe the word "polenta" seems to be used more often in general society's conversations whereas "grits" seems to be mostly confined to The South. Which is a pity, really. Grits are wonderful. Maybe, too, polenta as seen as slightly more sophisticated fare than grits. More worldly, or something. I mean, saying "I had this in Italy," does have a slightly more appealing ring to it than "I had this in Mississippi," I suppose. Even to me.

Back to Mollie Katzen. I've learned she has a new book called Get Cooking, meant to perhaps demystify time in the kitchen, some, for new cooks. The videos are a part of the marketing effort to get the word out about her book. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the website is the online version of the book, and they are "companion pieces," since it's no longer expected that the book version will automatically be the superior or more sought-out product.

Either way, if you love food, you might want to check it out. I'm thrilled to have redicsovered Mollie Katzen, and look forward to getting more ideas about food from her. She once had a way of inspiring me, and these days, you might say my cooking has been in dire need of inspiration. Thanks Mollie!